The Sword of Ice and Fire

Written by John Matthews
Review by Linda Sever

This novel opens with the Enchanter, Merlin, arriving in Avalon, carrying a baby, Arthur. Here he encounters the mysterious Nine women who guard the castle with its ever-shifting rooms, where Arthur is due to reside and grow up, until it is time for him to undergo a series of quests. Along the way he encounters monsters, shapeshifters, magicians, Druids and Mabon, the shining golden boy-god who must be rescued from an underground dungeon where he is held captive. He must also achieve the four Hallows of Albion, of which the first quest is to gain the Sword of Ice and Fire. Accompanying him are four magical, shapeshifting companions, the Salmon, Stag, Eagle and Blackbird.

John Matthews’ writing is stunning in its academic detail. Having devoted forty years to studying the Arthurian tradition, his work is meticulously researched, and the prose is reminiscent of the earliest stories of Arthur and Merlin, but faster-paced and filled with magic and mystery. At each twist and turn the reader encounters characters from Celtic mythology, such as the Green Knight, the Questing Beast, the Amangons and the hideous Fir Bolg.

The Sword of Ice and Fire is the first of a quartet of books under the title of Red Dragon Rising. I was captivated, drawn into the ancient mythologies of the British Isles, journeying alongside Arthur as he aims to capture the Sword. These are old and well-told tales, but seen through the eyes of someone devoted to retelling and reinvigorating them, they read like they are being told for the very first time. Recommended for readers over the age of ten.